10 Strategies to Promote Sleep

10 Strategies to Promote Sleep



“Not being able to sleep is terrible.  You have the misery of having partied all night...without the satisfaction.”

Lynn Johnston


Sleep is imperative to maintaining and improving brain health.  During the day our brains are exposed to an enormous amount of auditory, visual and other stimuli. Memories associated with these stimuli are processed, organized and stored while we sleep.  Also, during this time, the brain via its  glymphatic system, rids our brains of toxins that build up over the day.  Chemicals secreted during deeper stages of sleep play a critical role in repairing brain structures and function.


Chronic sleep deprivation can cause significant brain damage.  Less than 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night is associated with impaired reasoning, impaired problem solving, cognitive decline, memory loss, reduced alertness, decreased attention and many physical and mental health issues.  Approximately, 25% of people experience sleep issues.  These include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking early, sleeping too much, and restless or unsatisfying sleep.


Try these sleep promoting strategies.


1. Create a pleasant sleeping environment.  Make sure to have a comfortable mattress and pillows.  Use fresh, clean bedding.  Room temperature should be cool, between 15-20 (60-67) degrees.  Blackout curtains and eye shades can promote darkness.  White noise machines like a fan can be relaxing for some.   Ear plugs are useful if noise is contributing to poor sleep.


2. Establish a relaxing, daily, bedtime routine.  This might include having a shower or bath, doing light stretches, meditating, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, listening to soft music, and/or reading on the couch.


3. Go to bed and wake-up at the same time every day.  Avoid watching or checking the clock when in bed.  Commit to a fixed awakening time, even on weekends and no matter how poor a sleep.  Waking at the same time each day is the best way to set our internal clock.


4. Limit daytime napping to 20-30 minutes.  Nap early or not at all.


5. Moderate aerobic exercise, as little as 10 minutes per day can improve sleep.  The best time to exercise for sleep promotion is late afternoon or early evening. Engaging in exercise less than 2 hours before sleep can be activating and disrupt with sleep.


6. Have a light snack such as cheese and crackers, yogurt, warm milk or sleep inducing teas such as chamomile or valerian.  Avoid eating heavy or potentially disruptive foods such as fatty, fried, sugary and spicy foods.  Also stay away from fruits and carbonated drinks.


7. Limit the use of stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, 4-6 hours before bed.  With alcohol, moderation is key.  Alcohol might help us fall asleep but can act as a stimulant and disrupt the second half of our sleep, thus decreasing the quality of sleep.


8. Avoid activities that stimulate brain activity while in bed such as internet, texting, email, studying, working, watching tv and reading.


9. If you find your mind racing or worrying, practise mindfulness or cognitive strategies to redirect attention away from stressful thoughts.  As you lie in bed, bring awareness to your breathing.   Breathe naturally.  Focus your attention on your breath.  Feel it moving in and out.  Notice the rise of your breath.  Do you feel it in your chest or your abdomen?  Is your breath cool or warm?  Is there a scent?  As you focus on your breath your mind might wander.  No problem.  Acknowledge the thoughts and feelings you experience, without judgement.  Then, gently bring your focus back to your breath. Feel your body sinking into the mattress.  Luc Beaudoin, a BC based sleep researcher has come up with another useful technique to help you “reshuffle” your thoughts.  As you are lying in bed, think of a word that doesn’t repeat letters.  Then, start thinking of lists of words that start with each letter of the root word.


10. Worrying about sleeping doesn’t help.  In fact, it makes it more likely that you won’t.  If you can’t sleep after about 20-30 minutes you might want to get out of bed.  If so, do something boring, like reading a manual.  Perhaps have a warm milk or relaxing tea.  When sleepy go back.


Start small.  Pick 1 or 2 strategies to begin with.  Try to incorporate them consistently. When ready add another.  Be patient.  It can take time.  Hang in.


“Sleep is all about recovering, so if you are not sleeping

you are not recovering.”      

Tom Brady


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